In its report into the fire that razed 57 homes and burned out more than 386ha of the Perth Hills, the State Emergency Management Committee said in its Parkerville Stoneville Mt Helena Bushfire Review that private property owners who refused to allow the shire to carry out prescribed burning ” even at the council’s cost ” should shoulder much of the blame for the fire. Their actions allowed fuel loads to build up in the fire-affected area.
In a submission to the review, the Mundaring Volunteer Fire Control Officers and Captains Group said: ‘We also believe that the Shire of Mundaring has been very pro-active in bushfire risk reduction but, clearly, many of the property owners did not comply with the regulated bush fire risk reduction requirements of the (local government) fire break notice.’
Similar views were expressed by a number of community members in their submissions, identifying the need for private property owners to be more diligent in managing fuel loads.
The report concluded that the scorching hot day on January 12, combined with high fuel loads and a wind shift, created a perfect storm that made fighting the fire almost impossible.
The Forest Fire Danger Index peaked at 53 (severe) at the Bickley weather station about 11am that day, but hit almost 60 in Parkerville, where the temperature was higher.
‘The weather conditions reflected in these data, coupled with the 100 per cent fuel load curing, accounts for the extreme fire behaviour experienced. Under these conditions, only very well prepared and actively defended houses could be saved,’ the report states.
The Shire of Mundaring was hampered in its bid to conduct prescribed burns by seasonably above-average temperatures.
In 2012, there were 111 prescribed burns conducted on shire-owned land, unallocated Crown land, unmanaged reserves, land occupied by the Education Department and private land.
In 2013, due to unfavourable weather conditions limiting opportunities, only 56 prescribed burns were conducted.
But the review stated the shire and local bushfire volunteers ‘made significant efforts to assist residents to recognise bushfire risk and to act accordingly’. This was reflected not only in the level of preparedness demonstrated by residents, but also the lack of public blame directed towards either organisation after the fire.
About 50 community engagement sessions were recorded by the shire for the purpose of communicating bushfire safety messages to residents, through newsletters, open nights, property inspections and school visits.
The review stated that where prescribed burning involved both reserve and private land due to the vegetation crossing boundaries, the consent of property owners was required to enter and remove fuel through burning.
But many landowners did not support entry on to their land or the conducting of burns, even at the shire’s expense.
‘The shire made a significant effort to reduce fuel loads in the fire zone prior to the fire, despite the fact that the shire owns or manages only a small section of the land concerned,’ the report says. ‘Despite the shire’s efforts, high fuel loads remained in the area ultimately affected by the fire.’ .
The Parkerville Stoneville Mt Helena Bushfire Review also made a series of recommendations in an ‘opportunities for improvement summary’ in a number of areas, including policies and plans, bushfire prevention, preparedness, and response, leadership expertise and fire recovery.
A full copy of the 82-page review can be downloaded at tinyurl.com/nxkc3bd